PINEVILLE, La. (BP)–Louisiana College has announced plans to open a medical school in 2012. The new program, which is expected to have an initial class of 60 students and grow to 110 incoming students per year, has a proposed $30 million annual operational budget.
While a new medical school is a major undertaking for the college, which itself has an annual budget of $20 million for its four-year programs, Louisiana College president Joe Aguillard believes it will meet a significant need in the state, which ranks among the worst in the nation in percent of population lacking access to primary care — due mainly to a critical shortage of primary care doctors.
The project “is a huge endeavor,” said Aguillard in a July 23 announcement of the new school. “The operational budget and massive number of employees will dwarf what we presently have here at the college now.
“During the feasibility and economic impact studies, we engaged many health care leaders in our community, throughout the state and across the nation,” Aguillard added. “We discovered that although this is going to be a tremendous undertaking, it is one that can clearly be accomplished with the partnership of area hospitals, foundations, and other health care entities.”
Using funds from an anonymous donor, the school commissioned a feasibility study to determine the feasibility of establishing a medical school at Louisiana College. After studying the report, the college’s board of directors voted unanimously July 21 to move ahead with the project. Louisiana College started a School of Allied Health last year, is opening a new, 7,000-square-foot laboratory building for its nursing program and is planning to open a law school in 2011.
Aguillard expects to have a business plan formulated by the end of 2009 and raise $5 million by Christmas. That would allow the college to hire a dean and some faculty members to start forming a curriculum.
The consultants retained to do the feasibility study found a significant need for medical training in the state. The three medical schools in the state — Tulane, LSU-New Orleans and LSU-Shreveport — had more than 10,000 applicants in 2008 and accepted less than 500.
“Thousands of kids are not getting in,” said Jarrett Flood, founder and president of Flood International Consulting Agency in Baton Rouge. “They’re going overseas for their education. At the same time, there is a critical shortage of physicians, and Louisiana is not going to be able to pull them from other states. If you keep them in Louisiana, train them at Louisiana College, they do their residency in Louisiana, they are going to most likely stay here.”
Louisiana College already has a strong pre-med program. During the past four years, 92 percent of the college’s applicants to medical school have been accepted with an entrance exam score above 30. That places the pre-medical training program at Louisiana College as one of the best in the southern region of the United States.
The economic impact of the new medical school in central Louisiana is expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2025. The total employment impact is predicted to be 6,702 jobs.
While the price tag appears to be a steep one for a mostly rural area and a small college to support, the consultants believe funding can, and will, come from a variety of sources, most notably in the form of grants and donations.
“It requires three parts to make it work,” said Paul Umbach, founder and president of Tripp Umbach. “The most important is philanthropic giving — individuals and foundations who want to see health care improve in the area, who care about the quality of life and economic development in the community. Since it is an economic development project in its own right, you have state and other sources of economic development funds. The third is what all the partners can pull together, including the hospitals and other health care providers and groups.”
Philip Timothy is a staff writer for the Louisiana Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.